Keeping Track of Fantasy Novel Characters, Places, and Terminology

When I was writing my fantasy novels, The Third Dragon and The Raven’s Fire, I found it difficult a times to keep the names and places straight. I also had trouble keeping the characteristics of minor characters consistent. Things could get even more complicated if I decided to change a character’s name or characteristic. But this is how I kept it all straight and how I am sure other writers of fantasy novels keep their information straight.

Make a List and/or Keep a Database
Whenever I need a new character in my fantasy novel, I decide on a name, what special physical characteristics he or she has, and what their basic personality needs to be. If the character is just in for a very small part, I keep the physical and personality traits simple. But if the character is going to show up again, I try to make these features more unique and recognizable. And I keep track of it all by keeping a detailed database (spreadsheet). Each character on the spreadsheet also has indicated which book and which chapter he or she is in as well as what they did. Obviously, more prominent characters need more room to describe so I usually put, see document titled such-and-such. That document is created and saved in Word with that title. If you don’t have or don’t like to use an electronic database, use notecards and binders. Also, create a separate file or database for each element – one for people, one for places, and one for terminology.

Create a Map
Because the places in a fantasy novel are almost always made-up places, it is important to have a map. When I created the world of Ungal, I first made a map. I decided on each province name, added prominent cities, places such as forests and deserts, and rivers. I also created a database which described what the people of those provinces tended to wear, what their general physical characteristics were, and what personalities their populace tended to have. It is also good to have a general idea of how big the place is, how wide are some of the rivers and how did people cross, and whether there were any major roads.

Find and Replace
Sometimes I found it necessary to change a person’s name or the name of a place. After changing it in my database, I had to make sure I changed it in my fantasy novel too. The find and replace feature in Word makes this extremely easy. But you have to make sure you update your database and notes too.

Edit, Edit, and Have Someone Else Edit Some More
Sometimes when you get a certain character in your head, it is difficult for you to switch gears if you change his name or how he looks. Even the find and replace won’t always help you locate all the places where the changes need to be made. So to help reduce possible discrepancies, edit your book. Then edit it again. Have someone else edit it too (preferably a professional editor who is willing to also help you correct story discrepancies as well as grammatical errors). On top of having a professional editor, have your friends and family read it too. And ask them to let you know if they find something they are not clear on.

Lots writers of fantasy novels use maps. Many of them also have an index of names, places, and terminology. Robert Jordan’s fantasy novels have an index for terminology such as the definition of and how to pronounce Aes Sedai. If your fantasy novel uses made up terminology to define certain groups of people, types of objects, or magical actions, it is probably a good idea to not only create a database for this info but to have an index at the end of your novel which readers can reference. You can have an index of people as well as a map.

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One Response to “Keeping Track of Fantasy Novel Characters, Places, and Terminology”

  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Having searched the internet for a database all I could find were either business applications, or databases where I could keep lists of existing authors, books, and characters in novels. Thank you for explaining how to solve the problem of keeping a list of my characters, et al.

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